It was as if I were being wrapped in a blanket. A blanket made of velvet mountains, leaves that fell from the sun and glittering waves on a lake. The warmth pierced my heart. And in that moment, I was home. Home in God Himself. He spoke to my heart in a moment of beauty. I’ve had many moments like this in my life: I call them “infinite moments,” where it seems like time is stretched by two eternal hands, slowing it down and zooming it in enough for me to notice every little detail that seems to have been made, just for me.
But these infinite moments are rare. The opportunities to see moments of beauty, or things created just for the sake of being beautiful — you don’t really find much space for it in culture anymore.
But beauty is actually a big deal. Beauty is one of three Transcendentals (in Greek philosophical tradition). The other two are Truth and Goodness. Catholic theologians have used these Transcendentals in reference to God, and we need these three in the world to tell us about who God is. They bring us to Him.
But we’ve forgotten about Beauty. A big reason for this is that our culture worships productivity. We idolize that which is useful. We like to get stuff done. Especially in America, keeping ourselves from being too busy is a real struggle.
If you look around, you’ll notice there aren’t many artistic undertakings, be it buildings, paintings, or great masterpieces in general. Even great films and TV shows are fewer and further between. Instead, we’re surrounded by cheap, easy entertainment. Special effects are getting prettier, but the depth of storylines and striking characters are fading.
Few people seem to notice this. We’re just spoon-fed whatever we’re given and don’t realize we’re being starved of authentic Beauty. As a culture, we don’t spend any time cultivating it because, honestly, what does beauty actually do?
Beauty is useless.
Nothing. Beauty doesn’t do anything. It’s just there. It just is. But in casting it off as useless, we’ve cut ourselves off from something crucial: We’ve lost a sense of wonder. Our childlike spirit. Our sense of discovery. We’ve lost our ability to self-reflect and, as a result, find the deeper meaning of things.
In The Glory of the Lord, Hans Urs von Balthasar essentially makes the point that we don’t understand Beauty. We don’t put it on its proper pedestal with Truth and Goodness. But this is a great danger, he says: “Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past — whether he admits it or not — can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.”
Whoa. If we throw Beauty out, thinking we don’t need it, we can’t pray or love. But here’s the thing about Beauty: It is useless, in the fact that it doesn’t produce anything tangible the way the world sees as valuable. But we still need it.
We need the uselessness of Beauty.
Think of it this way: Spending time with someone we love doing “nothing” is pretty useless. We’re not accomplishing anything when we do that. But we still need that.
Beauty is an experience of God’s gift of His presence. It’s a moment of love. And so we need it — because we need Him.
Beauty might be “useless” by the world’s terms, but when we experience Beauty in the finite things of the world, it draws us into the presence of God and leaves us wanting more. Beauty is the whisper of God’s presence, calling us into deeper relationship with Him.
So we need Beauty, desperately. And I realize that all sounds super heady. But it’s something you can actually put into practice. Not only in our personal prayer and relationship with God, but also with yourself and others.
How can we get more of it in our lives?
1. Make space for silence.
We need to be quiet to listen. Not just in conversation, though. To be able to notice Beauty around you, you have to have a heart that is quiet enough to hear the call to rest in relationship (which is what “abide in Him” means), to behold Him in silence in all His extravagant splendor.
Beauty is found in the empty space of silence, and it becomes the experience of two lovers resting in contentment — an embrace of the other’s presence.
So put down your phone. Turn off the music. Notice the wonder of life around you. What is He telling you about Himself in it?
2. Do something useless.
When was the last time you did something “useless”? When you just wandered around a park, took in the sunshine, smelled the flowers, smiled at the birds chirping, sat in front of an artwork just for the sake of drinking in beauty, etc.? Do it, I dare you.
3. Be with people.
When was the last time you spent quality time with someone you love, resting in their presence simply because they are beautiful and good? I’m not talking about watching Netflix together. I’m talking about simply sitting together, maybe talking or maybe not, but overall just being together and enjoying who they are. This is what it means to encounter the world and the people around us. We need the uselessness of love, of Beauty.
4. Consume beautiful things.
If you’re going to have some media intake such as movies, books or music, drink in the kind that leaves you in awe of its beauty. There’s nothing wrong with media that’s simply for our entertainment, but if you are going to fill your soul with something, fill it with things that are truly beautiful.
5. Make something beautiful.
You don’t have to be an artist to create – but the act of creation in itself is an experience in the creative nature of God, and one that we were born to participate in. You can do this by cooking, gardening, woodworking, painting, designing — whatever you want, really. The important thing is to just create and make it as beautiful as you can.
Beauty will save the world.
We need Beauty because it leads us to wonder. We need wonder because it leads to praise. Praise leads to gratitude. Gratitude leads to joy. And joy is a characteristic of a childlike soul, which is the key to getting to heaven (Matt 18:3).
Beauty, then, is the doorway to the gospel. And if the gospel is what saves us, then Dostoyevsky was 100% right when he said, “Beauty will save the world.”